The rice paddies are full of children tending to the crop. Take a trip to one of the many quarries and you’ll see children picking up the broken stones. Everyday, children lucky enough to go to school pass some of the 1.83 million children (one out of every four children) between the ages of five and 17 already at work.
The high prevalence of child labour is just one symptom of a wider problem – 75% of the population live on less than USD $1.25 a day. Sending their children out to work is often the only way many families can survive.
The problem is huge, but SOS Children is at the forefront of tackling it and has become one of the strongest voices against child labour in Madagascar.
In partnership with the International Labour Organisation we run an annual campaign to bring child labour to an end. On top of this, we offer innovative Asama classes at several SOS Schools and all Family Strengthening Programmes on the island. The programme is a unique school support system for teenagers between the ages of 14 and 17 who have been out of education for an extended period of time. These teens have often been forced to give up education in order to support themselves and their families. Asama classes give them the opportunity to learn the five-year primary school curriculum in just 10 months, helping them catch up with their peers and giving them a strong base from which to go on to further education or enter vocational training. SOS Children have also secured scholarship for more than one hundred young people who are former child labourers.
Back to school
Neken and Toky are students in an Asama class of nineteen teenagers who all share similar stories.
Neken is 17 years-old. She was nine when she had to leave school because her parents could not afford the tuition. “I went to live with my cousin and I had to help her in the house,” she says. The Asama classes have given Neken hope that she will be able to complete her school diploma – the certificate she needs to become a nun. “It was very difficult in the beginning, but I wanted to learn and I needed the certificate, so I have to work as hard as I can,” Neken says.
Toky’s story is similar. He is only 16, but hasn't been to school in three years. He had to drop out when he was just 13 and help support his family instead. He never lost the desire to learn however, so when his neighbours told him about the Asama classes SOS Children were running, he jumped at the chance! The Asama programme is free, provides the teens with a school uniform and gives them a nutritious meal at lunch-time.
But it isn’t all plain sailing. The young people who attend the classes still live in abject poverty and teaching hungry and cold teenagers five-years-worth of knowledge in 10 months is a difficult task. “It is particularly challenging in the winter,” says Hanitra, school principal in Ivohitra. “Teachers collect winter clothes because the students arrive at school trembling. Most walk for about an hour to come here, and those are the ones who live closest by.” Nevertheless, the teenagers are incredibly willing to learn, despite the difficulties facing them.
SOS Children have provided love, care and education to abandoned, orphaned and vulnerable children and young people in Madagascar since 1989. Today we provide support and assistance to 54,000 children and 7,200 families across the 12 regions of the country. Find out more about our work in Madagascar.